The Religious Hypothesis - The Richmond Philosophy Pages

The Religious Hypothesis
Richard Hare’s Criticisms of Flew
• Flew said that if you cannot imagine your
belief to be wrong then the statement has no
• Richard Hare responded to this offering his
own parable to help us understand the
strange nature of religious statement.
The Parable of the Paranoid Student
• “A certain lunatic is convinced that all dons want
to murder him. His friends introduce him to all
the mildest and most respectable dons they can
find, and after each one of them has retired, they
say, “You see, he doesn’t really want to murder
you; he spoke to you in a most cordial manner;
surely you are convinced now?” But the lunatic
replies “Yes, but that was only his diabolical
cunning; he’s really plotting against me the whole
time, like the rest of them; I know it I tell you.”
However many kindly dons are produced, the
reaction is still the same”
• Like the person who believes in the invisible
gardener, the paranoid student cannot imagine
being wrong, his statement ‘my teachers are out
to get me’ is unfalsifiable
• And yet Hare argues that this belief is meaningful
– it has a deep influence on how the student
approaches the world, how he forms other
beliefs and how he lives his life. It is true that it
operates so centrally within his belief system that
it cannot be falsified, and all evidence is twisted
to fit with this fundamental belief; but the very
centrality of the belief means that it is deeply
meaningful, contrary to what Flew has argued
We Are All The Same
• According to Hare we are all in some ways like
the student – we all have fundamental beliefs or
principles on which we base our actions and
which we will never give up
• These thoughts and principles often form the
very basis for our other beliefs, and they are both
unverifiable and unfalsifiable
• Do you agree with Hare here?
• So Hare thinks beliefs like this are perfectly meaningful
even though unfalsifiable
• He invented the word ‘blik’ to refer to such
foundational thoughts and principles and argued that
many religious beliefs fall into this category
• For example ‘God exists’ is a blik – it is a belief that
informs their perspective on the world. They may
never be willing to give it up, but the fundamental
nature of the belief ensures that it remains important
to them, and distinctly meaningful
Basil Mitchell’s Criticism of Flew
• Mitchell disagrees with the view that religious
beliefs are unfalsifiable. He also offers a
parable to make his point
The Resistance Leader
• Imagine your country has been invaded and a
resistance movement develops to overthrow the
occupiers. One night you meet a man claiming to be a
resistance leader, and he convinces you to put your
trust in him and the movement. Over the months you
sometimes see the man act for the resistance, but
sometimes you see him act against the movement. This
troubles you: you worry that he might be a traitor, but
your trust in him eventually overcomes your concerns
and you continue to believe in him. Your belief that
‘the stranger is on your side’ is one you don’t give up,
even though you see him do many things that is wrong.
• Mitchell argues that this belief in the resistance leader
is meaningful, even though you refuse to give it up
• However, it is not a blik because there are many
occasions where you doubt your own belief
• This doubt show that your belief is falsifiable
• Mitchell’s parable reflects the doubt believers
sometimes have when they encounter great suffering
in their lives
• This shows that Flew is wrong to think that believers
simply shrug off evidence that goes against their beliefs
John Hick and The Revival of the
Religious Hypothesis
• Most philosophers argue that either the
atheist or the believer is correct; either there
is a God or there isn’t; either the religious
hypothesis is true or it isn’t
• But as Flew pointed out, if there are no facts
and no observations that will change the
minds, and the statements, of believers, then
what they say is meaningless
Eschatological Verification
• The philosopher John Hick responded to this attack by
reviving the idea of verification
• Like Wisdom, Hick acknowledged the ambiguous
nature of the world, and that observations appear to
support both the claim that God exists and does not
• But Hick tries to show that ultimately the ambiguity
disappears, and that in the afterlife religious
statements can be verified and therefore the religious
hypothesis is genuine
The Parable of the Celestial City
• “Two men are travelling together along a road. One of
them believes that it leads to the Celestial City, the
other that it leads nowhere; but since this is the only
road there is both must travel it. During this journey
they meet with moments of refreshments and delight,
and with moments of hardship and danger. All the time
one of them thinks this is a pilgrimage to the Celestial
City. He interprets the pleasant parts of the journey as
encouragements and the obstacles of trials of his
purpose. The other believes none of this and since he
has no choice he enjoys the good and endures the bad.
When they do turn the last corner it will be apparent
that one of them has been right all the time and the
other wrong”
Eschatological Verification
• This points to the possibility of what Hick calls
Eschatological verification – verification after death in
the next life
• Hick argues that many religious statements rest on the
claim that there is an afterlife and they are meaningful
because they can be verified in the afterlife
• For Hick such an experience would remove the grounds
for rational doubt in the existence of heaven
• Hick recognises the possibility of eschatological
verification relies on the possibility of retaining
personal identity through the process of death
• There are clearly difficulties with this idea: after
people die their body decomposes – how if the
body of which you are made has disappitated,
can you possibly be thought to have survived? If
someone subsequently appears in heaven, in
what sense can it be said to be me?
Hick’s Solution
• To answer these questions Hick proposes 3 ‘thought
experiments’ which try to show that a person appearing in
an afterlife can be considered as the same person who
First Hick asks us to imagine person X, disappearing in
America, while at the very same moment someone else, who
is the exact double of X appears in Australia. If this happened
would you consider the person appearing in Australia to be X?
Now imagine that instead of disappearing, person X dies in
America, and at the very same moment their double appears
in Australia. Wouldn’t we still say they were the same person?
Finally, imagine that person X dies in America, and their
double now appears, not in Australia, but in heaven. Again
Hick thinks that if we accept that it is the same person in
scenarios 1 and 2 then it is the same person in this scenario
• What these thought experiments are
supposed to show is that resurrection is at
least possible
• If we (or at least some of us) is resurrected in
heaven, we will be in no doubt that it is
heaven we are in

similar documents